Dan Gielty, better known as ‘Organic Dan’, farms in the dramatic fields near Ormskirk, West Lancashire. He grows all sorts of organic veg for us as the year turns: slow-grown spuds, nutty Pink Fir Apple potatoes, purple carrots (in season just in time for Halloween), candy-striped Chioggia beetroots – and Brussels sprouts; an absolute essential in our Christmas veg boxes every year.
Home Farm has been a working farm for over 100 years. Dan’s history isn’t quite that long, but he has been helping out in the fields alongside his father as far back as he can remember. No reluctant assistant, he caught the veg bug young; aged just 16, he started renting his own land to try his hand at farming independently.
For his first few years, Dan was a strictly nocturnal farmer. Initially because he was still at school, and then because he needed to work on neighbouring farms by day to earn the money to fund his own fields, the only opportunity that remained to work his land (and experiment with organic methods) was under the cover of darkness.
Those challenging early efforts paid off: Organic Dan has ploughed his own furrow away from the intensive world of conventional agriculture, farming sustainably, slowly, steadily, and (as one might gather from the name) always organically.
One of the major stars of Dan’s fields every year are his Brussels sprouts – a challenging crop to grow organically. The dense canopy of leaves above the stalk traps a layer of humidity, providing the perfect breeding ground for slugs, aphids and fungal diseases. Dan plants his all the way back in March and April, lets them grow slowly all the year long, then harvests them carefully by hand. This is back-breaking work, but after so many months of care, every spud is sacred; hand-harvesting is the only way to make sure that each one is picked only when it’s ready, and in perfect condition.
When Dan isn’t farming, he’s contemplating the farming of the past; he’s a keen collector and restorer of vintage agricultural machinery, and can often be found tinkering about in his shed, resurrecting some mechanical dinosaur and getting it in gleaming condition.